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  • Writer's pictureShannon

Paper ritual offerings: the "vivid" Underworld

What comes after death? You may pop up the ideas of “heaven” and “hell”. However, the traditional Chinese imagine that the dead would reside in the Underworld, which was similar to the present world. That means the dead needed clothing, houses, food, and money to survive. To ensure the living quality, their alive family members will frequently burn the paper offerings to the dead, because burning was the only way to “reach”the Underworld. Hence, the paper offerings industry has been established, namely Zhizha (紙紮).

You can choose a variety of paper offerings in the Zhizha shop, from the gorgeous village houses, luxurious cars, fashionable clothes, or even the high-tech iPhones and MacBook, as well as the joss paper money issued by the Bank of Hell Government. Those paper offerings can be delicate, such as the colorful paper houses, with domestic helper figures and detailed indoor furnishings. If you are worried the departed kin being so lonely, you can burn some paper servant dolls, ordering them to look after the deceased family members.

From the genesis of the paper offering servant dolls, you may observe the change of Chinese society. The dolls mainly use in the funeral ritual, treated as grave goods. Originally, the alive human was buried as sacrifices to the royal dead members in the Pre-Qin Period (2100 B.C.-221 B.C.). Later, the pottery figurines were commonly used in Han Dynasty (206 B.C–220 A.D) as the human workforce was essential to the productivity. Finally, the paper burial servants appeared in Song Dynasty (960 A.D–1279 A.D) while the papermaking skills became more efficient. Those paper dolls are much durable and easier to produce than the replicas in metals and potteries.

In present Hong Kong, you may see the paper dolls if you pass through the funeral homes, while you hear the sorrowful Suona* melody.

· Suona, an instrument played in Taoist funeral

*words: Ying Shuk Chiu *photos: Chit Chung Wong

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